A stampede of bands came in the wake of the success of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Motörhead. This movement was called the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and it produced some of the best bands the world has ever known.
Here are the 10 best New Wave of British Heavy Metal albums:
10. Saxon – Denim and Leather
The final album of Saxon’s loose trilogy of LPs between 1980 and 1981, Denim and Leather is a mission statement in anthemic riffs and hooks. Of course the album is notable for the title track’s loud and proud celebration of the heavy metal uniform of the day, but perhaps even more commendable is their outspoken praise of the mail delivery system in the towering “Princess Of The Night.”
9. Grim Reaper – See You In Hell
Beavis and Butthead didn’t always get it right. Headbangers the world over let out a collective groan when the two animated burnouts unceremoniously derided the title track of this Grim Reaper classic, with Beavis mockingly yelling along with Steve Grimmett’s penultimate high note before yelling “Shut up!” and Butthead commanding “Stop in the name of all that does not suck,” but we’ll chalk that up to the show being a product of the transitional times of the mid ‘90s. See You In Hell is as hauntingly evil as it is bright and melodic. An album that sounds grassroots from the underground and built for the stadium at the same time.
8. Raven – All For One
Keep this in your head: Metallica’s first tour was opening up for Raven during the US touring cycle for this album! That status alone could earn All For One a spot on this list, but a record of this caliber needs no help in that department. Blistering speed metal with more hooks and grooves than any band should be capable of harnessing, plus production values to make it just commercially palatable enough for major labels to believe they were ready for the proverbial big time. We don’t need to talk about what came next.
7. Satan – Court In The Act
Their name might have caused some controversy, but Satan hardly needed to push any buttons to get the attention they deserved. Dynamic vocalist Brian Ross might have already made a name for himself in Blitzkrieg, but the real attraction here are the raging riffs and complex guitar interplay between Steve Ramsey and Russ Tippins. It’s a formula that would soon send Metallica and Slayer to superstardom, and they owe the template to Satan.
6. Venom – Black Metal
Although the bar was set notoriously low for their debut album, the raw vitriol of Venom’s Welcome To Hell turned enough heads to plant the mustard seed of a movement. Their follow-up served as the mission statement of everything parents in the early 1980s feared. By making the nastiest, fastest, ugliest, and most overtly satanic music possible, Venom became responsible for a whole genre (whether they were just joking or not).
5. Girlschool – Demolition
Although the support of heavy metal ambassador Lemmy Kilmister certainly doesn’t hurt, a record as ferocious and catchy as Demolition stands high on its own. Comparisons to The Runaways are sadly inevitable, but London’s Girlschool are considerably faster and more scary than their spiritual siblings. The missing link between Motörhead and the New York Dolls, with just enough Thin Lizzy inspired guitar worship to make any six-stringer weep.
4. Def Leppard – High ‘N’ Dry
While their radio-pop ascent might provoke arguments about Def Leppard’s status within the NWOBHM, the raw and blistering nature of their early work fits as much of the sonic, aesthetic, and geographical framework as any other band in the movement. High ‘N’ Dry did indeed mark a departure for the band in terms of production value and songwriting, but the record’s commercial accessibility hardly dulls its metal edge. Show me someone who doesn’t like “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t like metal.
3. Diamond Head – Lightning To The Nations
As cool of a story as Diamond Head’s debut might be, it’s very much a cautionary tale. The band had gained some traction from their explosive live shows, but felt that they were being overlooked by the label system while contemporaries like Def Leppard and Iron Maiden were signing to majors. Managed by frontman Sean Harris’ mother, Diamond Head turned down multiple record deals at her insistence; always waiting for “something better.” Their debut, Lightning To The Nations, was self financed and self released in blank white cardboard sleeves (because Harris’ mom’s boyfriend, who was co-managing the band, owned a cardboard factory and could get them for cheap), with the intention of sending them off to record companies who would hopefully sign them. They did eventually sign to MCA two years later, from which Lars Ulrich heard them on the Brute Force comp and turned them into the thing of legend. Still, Diamond Head would have done exponentially better had they never listened to Harris’ mom and just signed a record deal in 1978 like a regular band.
2. Angel Witch – Angel Witch
Angel Witch and Iron Maiden ran neck and neck in their early days, sharing many of the same stages and releasing records at roughly the same time, but the bigger wave that catapulted Eddie and company into stardom never came for Angel Witch. Capturing lightning in a bottle, Angel Witch’s debut album is a monolith of technical mastery, anthemic calls-to-arms, and touching ballads. Bound for glory as they were, issues with lineup stability caused the band to falter before the masses had a chance to take notice. A perfect album that is mandatory listening for every metalhead
1. Iron Maiden – The Number Of The Beast
Although both of the Paul Di’Anno records are worthy of a place on this list, the galloping melodic mastery and Bruce Dickinson’s soaring pipes of gold changed the heavy metal game for good. The Number Of The Beast was the first NWOBHM record to top the charts in the UK with good reason; capturing the apex of a sound, a place, and a time before hair metal would shit on the whole thing.